The idea of padding around the coastline going into shallow and secluded inlets and stopping on a deserted beach for a spot of lunch may have been a fantasy… ruined by the fact you didn’t have space to store rigid kayaks…
Inflatable kayaks change the game and make space considerations a thing of the past being easily able to fit in the back of a family size car. Inflatables were once only for little ones at the beach but now manufacturing and materials have evolved to the point where you may not notice the difference between the real thing. Inflatable kayaks range from being rough sea-worthy fishing vessels to casual seaside/riverside cruisers fun for all the family.
Need help deciding which inflatable kayak is for you?
Whether you’re set on the kayak you want or you still need guidance on the right kayak for you we’ve weighed up the pro’s and con’s of the most popular kayaks on the market. All the kayaks have been assessed on the below criteria.
If you’re going to be venturing out onto open water, the last thing you want in the back of your mind is the anxiety that the kayak may not be up to scratch. Alternatively if you’re going to be using the kayak a lot you want to it’s built to last.
Portability is affected most dominantly by the number of people the kayak is rated to hold. This is the most profound affect on the amount of material needed. This is then closely followed by the purpose of the kayak. We weigh up the real world scenarios and how portable each kayak is from their construction to help inform your decision
In our opinion comfort is a key consideration across any product, you could have the most sea bearing and quick inflatable kayak but if it forces you to be cramped and squashed in order to do so then it’s not worth it.
Comfort can be affect directly and indirectly. First through the seating position, the leg supports and room within the kayak. The second is through function for the purpose of your trip. If you plan on doing some trekking down a river system you need space for gear. It will get very uncomfortable if you’ve not got enough space to store it!
The material a blow up kayak is made from will often depend on it’s function and price. More durable material is always more expensive, think gore-tex etc. Inflatable kayaks use different plastics which are bonded onto a woven mesh.
Blow up kayaks are often made from the following;
- Hypalon: Resistant to UV rays, and most common cleaning chemicals. It is found on high end kayaks, usually on the top tubes most in contact with sunlight.
- TPU: The successor to PVC, less toxic has a lot less degassing so you don’t get that plastic smell like you do with PVC
- PVC: Cheap, abrasion resistant and durable, this is typically always used around key joins in fabric as it’s very strong.
- Nitrylon: Stronger, more durable and more eco-friendly than PVC. But also heavier.
Chris has an excellent post that goes into the detail of pack raft and inflatable kayak materials
Most inflatable kayaks are pretty stable as the pumped up tubes create a wider profile which in turns makes them stable while sacrificing some speed. Depending on the use of the kayak you may be willing to sacrifice some stability for speed, but this is a fine line to tread so usage considerations play a key part in deciding if a kayak will be stable enough for you.
A blow up kayak is just on piece of the puzzle, in order to be able to be ready for the inevitable humps and challenges along the way it’s nice to be equipped. Now you could buy these all separately but if it comes with the kayak it’ll often mean there is some integrated storage or feature which may save headaches. Some examples to look out for are;
- Lightweight anchor
- Waterproof storage bags
- Carry cleats
Our picks of the best inflatable kayaks in 2020
Best 2 Person Inflatable Kayaks
As two person kayaks are the most popular according to Google trends we’ve compared these first
Intex K2 Explorer
The intex K2 explorer is the perfect get into inflatable kayaking option. It’s one of the most popular being sold on Amazon and other retailers for good reason. It’s affordable
Material: The K2 explorer is made form PVC, which is described as rugged vinyl. As mentioned this is PVC which has a tendency to smell, we keep ours in our flat as we don’t have a garage and don’t notice and smell and have been impressed by the durability of the kayak for the given price. You wouldn’t want to get to close to sharp rocky outcrops and this kayak is best used at a soft bottom location.
Stability: The kayak is 3ft wide by 10ft long and this gives it a wide beam and provides ample stability. We tested this climbing in and out of the kayak from deep water the kayak held steady and it was easy to climb in.
Comfort: The one area where the K2 is let does is comfort for 2 people, leg space is a little cramped and there is only room to store a small dry bag with food and water. If you use this solo you’ll have plenty of space. This fits in line with the purpose of this kayak. It’s an affordable fun option to use at the beach, lake or river in calm conditions.
Portability: The whole kit, kayak, oars, pump comes in at 37lbs (16.7kg) which makes this kit portable to the point where you can carry from the carpark to the beach with some effort. The size of the kit is quite bulky packed down at 16.65in x 13.98in x 23.54in so with a small car will take up a fair amount of boot space. The most limiting portability factor is the slightly flimsy bag, it does the job but you will need to handle with care.
- Repair patch
- 2 Oars
- Hand pump
- Good value
- Easily can take two people
- Poor quality hand pump
- Slightly cramped with two people
- No reinforced segments for added durability
Sea Eagle 330 Inflatable Kayak
This Sea eagle looks similar to the K2 however it’s rated to carry 500 pounds while only weighing 26lbs. This kayak is designed to endure whitewater up to grade III, while being two person rated it’s worth considering your size, two 6ft+ people and camping gear will be a squeeze.
Material: It’s lightweight is thanks to it’s heavy duty k80 polykrylar which in essence is a modified and more durable PVC material.
Stability: This kayak is very stable thanks to its wide beam. Compared to other kayaks it tracks very true thanks to it’s double skeg.
Comfort: This kayak is designed for two smaller adults, or a large adult and a child. If you’re planning on using this to carry camping gear and descend some whitewater then consider the bigger brother the sea eagle 370.
Portability: Packing down to 61 cm x 41 cm x 18 cm and fitting nicely in a drawstring bag, easy to fit into the back of a hatchback and carry short distances to setup on the shoreline/beach.
- Whitewater rating grade III
- Cramped if two large adults
Best 1 Person Inflatable Kayak
Intex Challenger K1
Intex perhaps offer the widest range of inflatable kayaks and the K1 is on this list because it offers some great single person utility at an affordable price with a difference it’s a sit in kayak.
The design of the challenger series is slightly more utility focused with front mesh for gear storage and with a lower profile is lightweight and great for use on lakes and calm waterways. The height of this kayak is 6inches less than the K2 explorer at 1ft 1in.
Material: This kayak is made from vinyl which has low re-enforcements on the bottom so while touted puncture resistant, significant blows with a sharp rock could cause critical damage.
Stability: The K1 challenger is 3ft wide and for a 1 person kayak offers great stability
Comfort: This kayak is compact and won’t offer much leg room if you’re over 6ft tall, with you feet going into a closed deck leg room is limited.
Portability: Lightweight at 24lbs this kayak is easy to carry and quick to inflate once you’re at the spot. An aftermarket pump is recommended as the supplied pump is a flimsy.
- Great value
- Low water profile
- Not very durable
ADVANCED ELEMENTS AirFusion Evo Inflatable Kayak
This airfusion kayak is a top of the line product blending rigid and inflatable technology in order to make the kayak portable but perform just like a rigid kayak.
Designed by Advanced Elements in California this single person inflatable kayak is a top of the line kayak on the market let’s break down it’s structure and purpose.
Materials: The evo is made from a combination of an aluminum frame and high pressure (2psi) air chambers which are encased with a rugged polyurethane skin.
Stability: This kayak is 13ft long and 2ft wide making it moderately stable. Anyone not used to a narrow beam kayak may find this unstable
Comfort: This is where the kayak excels, there is plenty of bungie deck lacing, a rear storage hatch with plenty of space for day trip gear.
Portability: This kayak fits neatly away into a storage case that can be carried on airplane with a large suitcase.
- Super comfortable
- Setup/takedown times
Sevylor Quikpak K5 1-Person Kayak
If you’re after maximising the time you spend on the water this kayak may be for you, the big selling point is it’s really rapid (less than 5 minutes) setup and takedown time just having to inflate and deflate 3 air chambers.
Material: Constructed from 24 gauge PVC tarpaulin bottom and a polyester cover this kayak can handle the knocks and bumps the lake may throw at you. The polyester fabric isn’t water resistant and will retain moisture after use and will be let to try before long term storage.
Stability: This kayak is relatively stable, with a high ride height above the water, your center of gravity isn’t always on your side.
Comfort: This kayak comes plenty of leg room if you opt to have them lying flat or for you to press up against to sides of the kayak for more thrust. With a large bungie cord storage area behind the
Portability: This kayak wins on the portability front being able to be set up and taken down really quickly.
- Great portability
- Durable for the price
- High ride position